Lily Fischer's ascension to cupcake queen — and a performance this weekend as a competitor on the new Food Network series Cupcake Champions — was driven purely by accident.
Probably several accidents.
The South Philadelphia woman and her friend Erin Bailey were preschool teachers at Friends Select in Center City in 2009. "I was having a stressful day, so I decided to go home and bake something," Fischer said. The something was a batch of cupcakes, which they brought in the next day for a coworker.
Noticing the stash, the mommies bit: "Oh, my God! I want to order from you!" Fischer said, re-creating the squeals. What started off as a hobby turned into a side business, A Cupcake Wonderland.
"Preschool teacher by day, renegade baker by night," said Fischer, acknowledging that she was preparing commercial food in her apartment, a health department no-no. "I felt like I had two jobs."
In March 2010, heeding what she called her quarter-life crisis, she left teaching and enrolled in the baking and pastry program at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. "It was easier and cheaper than getting into grad school," she said. "I mean, for three years I was playing with Play-Doh every day. It's just like fondant."
A few months in, she and Bailey got a call from a production company, suggesting that she audition for Cupcake Wars, the reality competition series. They made an adorable video that featured Fischer training and running, Rocky-style.
They were picked and flown out to California to compete. Fischer missed her last week of classes but did graduate. But they won their episode. The $10,000 prize allowed them to go legit, setting them up with space in the entrepreneur-rich Globe Dye Works building in Port Richmond. They share a space with LoveBar, a chocolate bar.
It also set them up for round two. Food Network has assembled past Cupcake Wars winners into a new series, Cupcake Champions. Grand prize is $50,000.
But Bailey won't appear on the new show. Just as the Cupcake Wars episode was shown last June, Bailey's wife had a baby. Bailey decided to bow out of the business to care for the child.
Fischer then learned that one of her best friends from a decade ago at Sarah Lawrence College, Nima Etemadi, had quit his editing job in New York to attend the French Culinary Institute.
"It's funny how life happens," Fischer said. Enter her new partner.
Fischer and Etemadi will appear on the Cupcake Champions season premiere, 8 p.m. Sunday. In their installment, four teams will compete in a series of baking challenges for the chance to serve superhero cupcakes at a VIP party for the Broadway show Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The series finale will be June 10.
There is a public viewing party for the episode Sunday night at Urban Saloon, 2120 Fairmount Ave.